Affordable Elite Rankings Methodology

To construct the Affordable Elites ranking, we started with the 224 colleges in our rankings with a Barron’s competitiveness score of “very competitive plus,” “highly competitive,” “highly competitive plus,” or “most competitive.” These colleges were then ranked on a 3-point scale on each of five measures reflecting access, affordability, and student outcomes, with the maximum possible score being 15 points.

Student loan default rates. This represents the percentage of students who took out federal student loans and defaulted within three years of leaving college. A college received 3 points for a default rate below 2 percent, 2 points between 2 percent and 4 percent, 1 point between 4 percent and 6 percent, and no points for being above 6 percent.

Percent of students receiving Pell Grants. This is a measure of effort in serving students of modest financial means. A college received 3 points if at least 40 percent of students received Pell Grants, 2 points between 30 percent and 40 percent, 1 point between 20 percent and 30 percent, and no points for being below 20 percent.

Graduation rates. This represents the percentage of first-time, full-time students who graduated within six years. A college received 3 points for a graduation rate above 90 percent, 2 points between 75 percent and 90 percent, 1 point between 60 percent and 75 percent, and no points for being below 60 percent.

Graduation rate performance. This measure compares the actual graduation rate between 2010 and 2012 to the predicted graduation rate generated from a regression controlling for student-level and college-level characteristics. A college received 3 points if the actual graduation rate exceeded the predicted rate by at least 5 percent, 2 points if the actual rate exceeded the predicted rate by between 0 percent and 5 percent, 1 point if the actual rate was below the predicted rate by no more than 5 percent, and 0 points if the actual rate was at least 5 percent below the predicted rate

Net price of attendance. This represents the average cost of attendance students with family incomes below $75,000 pay after taking grant and scholarship aid into account. A college received 3 points for a net price below $10,000, 2 points between $10,000 and $15,000, 1 point between $15,000 and $20,000, and no points for being over $20,000. —Eds.

Robert Kelchen

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University, is data manager of the Washington Monthly College Guide.